Another day, another story about how freaked out college students are. Maybe they heard about this recession thing?
Hot on the heels of a study showing that college kids are taking more psychiatric meds than ever before, a new survey has found that the nation's freshmen suffer "record-low levels of emotional health." According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 51.9% of students responding to "The American Freshman" survey reported good or above-average emotional health, the lowest percentage since the survey started asking about it in 1985. And interestingly, Denise Hayes of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors says anxiety has overtaken depression as students' most common mental health issue.
It's pretty easy to see why this might be. 75.8% of students surveyed said their "drive to achieve" was above average or in the top 10%, and yet certain kinds of achievement are harder than ever before. Though the job market may be picking up slightly, stories of 2010 college grads facing anemic job fairs, settling for "gap-year opportunities" instead of actual jobs, and moving back in with their parents abound. And even among companies that hired new grads in 2010, 36% either aren't sure if they'll hire again in 2011, or have already decided not to. The Wall Street Journal reported last year that some students were trying to lock down jobs in early fall, perhaps because of fear that nothing would be available come spring, and all coverage of college students' employment prospects stresses the need to scramble — and the reality that even scrambling may not pan out.
On top of this, today's young people have to deal with being repeatedly branded as entitled wimps. Hayes acknowledges the seriousness of students' concerns: "College tuition is higher, so they feel the pressure to give their parents their money's worth in terms of their academic performance. There's also a notion, and I think it's probably true, that the better their grades are, the better chance they have at finding a job." But she also says, "The ways students learned to fend for themselves developmentally — by building up problem-solving skills and coping skills — have been undermined with the attention to supporting them and the immediate contact with parents at all times." Is helicopter parenting really making today's freshmen soft? Or is their (alleged) constant contact with parents just their way of dealing with times that are scarier than ever before? Of course, there's also another possibility — that these scary times are actually changing young people's relationships with their families. With more young people living at home during college or moving back home afterwards, and more older people struggling with unemployment as well, family members may have to rely on each other in a way they didn't ten years ago. And though traditional American culture may value rugged individualism, maybe it's getting harder, both economically and emotionally, to go it alone.
College Freshmen Report Record-Low Levels Of Emotional Health [Chronicle Of Higher Education]